Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 5, 2011

UK Prime Minister: Counter-terrorism requires “much more active, muscular liberalism”

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2011

Earlier today, Saturday, at the Munich Security Conference UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave considerable attention to terrorism and radicalization.  Below are his prepared remarks in full.  The bold bits and hyperlinks are my contribution.   I do not agree with all the Prime Minister offers.  I do perceive he is speaking with helpful clarity regarding a crucial issue.

One pedantic note: the “state multiculturalism” referenced by the Prime Minister is a particularly European policy prescription.  There are echoes of it in some parts of the United States, but usually quite faint.  The American experience with immigration and national enculturation has been quite different than that in Europe, especially over the last generation.  Further, there is in the PM’s remarks a bias toward the centrality-of-the-state that is accurate in the European context and does not quite match the North American experience.

German Chancellor Merkel no doubt recognized — and appreciated — the solidarity Mr. Cameron demonstrated with similar remarks and policies undertaken by her government.  (Read more from a December post at HLSWatch)

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Today, I want to focus my remarks on terrorism.

But first, let me address one point.

Some have suggested that by holding a Strategic Defence and Security Review, Britain is somehow retreating from an activist role in the world.

This is the complete reversal of the truth.

Yes, we are dealing with the deficit, but we are also making sure our defences are strong.

Britain will continue to meet the NATO two per cent target for defence spending.

We still have the fourth largest military budget in the world.

And at the same time, we are putting that money to better use, focusing on conflict prevention and building a much more flexible army.

That’s not retreat, it’s hard headed. Every decision we take has three aims firmly in mind.

First, to support our continuing NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Second, to reinforce our actual military capability.

As Chancellor Merkel’s government is showing here in Germany what matters is not bureaucracy – which frankly Europe needs a lot less of – but the political will to build the military capability we need, as nations and allies, to deliver in the field.

And third, to make sure Britain is protected from the new and various threats it faces.

That’s why we’re investing in a national cyber-security programme and sharpening our readiness to act on counter-proliferation.

The biggest threat to our security comes from terrorist attacks – some of which are sadly carried out by our own citizens.

It’s important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.

The UK still faces threats from dissident republicans.

Anarchist attacks have occurred recently in Greece and Italy.

And of course, yourselves in Germany were long-scarred by terrorism from the Red Army Faction.

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse and warped interpretation of Islam and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.

Last week at Davos, I rang the alarm bell for the urgent need for Europe to recover its economic dynamism.

And today, though the subject is complex, my message on security is equally stark.

We won’t defeat terrorism simply by the actions we take outside our borders.

Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries.

Root of the problem

Of course, that means strengthening the security aspects of our response – on tracing plots and stopping them, counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering.

But this is just part of the answer. We have to get to the root of the problem.

We need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie – and that is the existence of an ideology, ‘Islamist extremism’.

And we should be equally clear what we mean by this term, distinguishing it from Islam.

Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology, supported by a minority.

At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of sharia.

Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist world-view including real hostility towards western democracy and liberal values.

It’s vital we make this distinction between the religion and the political ideology.

Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.

So they talk about ‘moderate’ Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is wrong.

Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.

We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.

Muddled thinking

This highlights a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat we face: there is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue.

On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism and just say:

Islam and the West are in irreconcilable. This is a clash of civilisations.

So it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion – whether that’s through the forced repatriation favoured by some fascists or the banning of new mosques as suggested in some parts of Europe.

These people fuel Islamaphobia. And I completely reject their argument.

If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo.

Hundreds of thousands people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.

The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem.  Islam, emphatically, is not.

Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to confront the former.

On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction.

They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances and arguing if only governments addressed them, this terrorism would stop.

So they point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say: get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.

But this ignores that fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK have been graduates, and often middle class.

They point to the grievances about Western foreign policy and say: stop riding roughshod over Muslim countries and the terrorism will end.

But there are many people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – who are angry about western foreign policy and don’t resort to acts of terrorism.

They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say: stop propping them up and creating the conditions for extremism to flourish.

But this raises the question: if a lack of democracy is the problem, why are there extremists in free and open societies?

Now, I am not saying these issues aren’t important.

Yes, we must tackle poverty.

Yes, we must resolve sources of tension – not least in Palestine.

And yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East.

On Egypt, our position is clear: we want to see the transition to a more broadly based government with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society.

I simply don’t accept that there’s a dead-end choice between a security state and Islamist resistance.

But let’s not fool ourselves, these are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all these problems, there would still be this terrorism.

Identity and radicalisation

The root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology.

And I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.

What I’m about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all.

In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.

But they also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. (Note by Palin: See 2009 critique by Baroness Warsi of “state multiculturalism.”)

We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.

We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.

So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.

But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.

The failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone they don’t want to is a case in point.

This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.

All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.

And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.

For sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight.

What we see is a process of radicalisation.

Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated.

In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere.

In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion.

All these interactions engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply.

You might say: as long as they’re not hurting anyone, what’s the problem with all this?

I’ll tell you why.

As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’ and then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.

And I say this is an indictment of our approach to these issues in the past.

And if we are to defeat this threat, I believe it’s time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past.

So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms.

And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity, open to everyone.

Let me briefly take each in turn.

Tackle all forms of extremism

First, confronting and undermining his ideology.

Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.

For governments, there are obvious ways we can do that.

We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.

We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism – against people at home and abroad.

Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem.

We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.

Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.

So let’s properly judge these organisations:

Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?

Do they believe in equality of all before the law?

Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?

Do they encourage integration or separatism?

These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.

Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations.

No public money. No sharing of platforms with Ministers at home.

At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly funded institutions – like universities and prisons.

Some say: this is incompatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry.

I say: would you take the same view if right-wing extremists were recruiting on campuses?

Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believe Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in prison?

And to those who say these non-violent extremists are helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense.

Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to lure young white men away from fascist terrorism?

But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are –completely unjustifiable.

We need to argue that terrorism is wrong – in all circumstances.

We need to argue that their prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are rubbish.

Governments cannot do this alone.

The extremism we face is a distortion of Islam so these arguments, in part, must be made by those within Islam.

So let’s give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries – the vast often unheard majority – who despise the extremists and their worldview.

Let’s engage groups that share our aspirations.

Stronger citizenship

Second, we must build stronger societies and identities at home.

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.

It stands neutral between different values. A genuinely liberal country does much more.

It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

It says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society.

To belong here is to believe in these things.

Each of us in our own countries must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

There are practical things we can do as well.

That includes making sure immigrants speak the language of their new home.

And ensuring that people are educated in elements of a common culture and curriculum.

Back home, we are introducing National Citizen Service – a two-month programme for sixteen year-olds from different backgrounds to live and work together.

I also believe we should encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power, away from the state and to people.

That way common purpose can be formed, as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods.

It will also help build stronger pride in local identity so people feel free to say yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too.

It’s that identity – that feeling of belonging in our countries that is the key to achieving true cohesion.

Conclusion

Let me end with this. This terrorism is completely indiscriminate and has been thrust upon us.

It can’t be ignored or contained.

We need to confront it with confidence.

Confront the ideology that drives it by defeating the ideas that warp so many minds at their root.

And confront the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries.

None of this will be easy. We need stamina, patience and endurance. And it won’t happen at all if we act alone.

This ideology crosses continents – we are all in this together.

At stake are not just lives, it’s our way of life.

That’s why this is a challenge we cannot avoid – and one we must meet.

February 4, 2011

Resilience = Risk awareness + Personal responsibility + Relationships

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on February 4, 2011

Last week several of us agreed, disagreed, discussed and attempted to discern the meaning involved in a collision between tens-of-thousands of National Capital Region commuters with five inches of snow.   This week it was the turn of commuters from Oklahoma City to Boston with a foot or more of snow.

Immediately below  – with thanks to the Chicago Sun-Times —  is Tuesday night’s outcome along Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive.

“We know that hundreds of people were very inconvenienced, and we apologize for that,” Mayor Daley’s Chief of Staff Ray Orozco said.

“While we wanted to get to these people as quickly as possible, we wanted to get to them as safely as possible,” Orozco said.

Some motorists criticized the hours of delay, as they coped without food or water in their cars.

Lincoln Park resident Julius Jellinek, who was trapped on Lake Shore Drive for six hours, called it “a disgrace” that the city took as long as it did to move cars blocking the exit ramps.

“There was absolutely no reason to hold us hostage,” he said. “With a little planning or a little thinking, they could take all of the cars off Lake Shore Drive, the ones that were stuck.”

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To which I feel compelled to respond, might others than the government have done a little planning or a little thinking before the blizzard arrived?

Sunday afternoon I was talking to my Dad who lives in rural Illinois.  A rigid rule for Midwesterners is to acknowledge the weather.  ”Sounds like a really big one heading your way Tuesday, eh Dad?”  ”Well, its our turn.  Good couple of days to stay home and drink coffee.”  Perhaps all those trapped on LSD were not real Midwesterners but Californians on vacation.

On Monday, January 31 the Chicago Tribune’s Weather Center said of Tuesday, “Snowfall totals in excess of 12 inches coupled with winds of 25 to 40 mph will make long distance travel extremely dangerous if not impossible.”  Short-distance too.

Something Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive commuters shared with those on the District’s 16th Street a week before was the timing of the storm.  In each case, the really bad weather rolled in during mid-to-late afternoon on a work day.   On Tuesday the first snow-bands hit Chicago shortly after 2:00PM.

Here’s a Tribune weather blog about an hour after the first snowflakes: “3:31PM  UPDATE: From bad to worse.   Winds gusting to 40mph will make this storm a showstopper.   A spotter in Tinley Park reports that visibility is down to zero with snow drifts building quickly.”

We should be encouraged that over the last week usage of the National Weather Service website increased five-fold.  Most Chicagoans and others were paying attention and making mindful choices.

Maybe the glass is more than half-full… even eighty-percent full.  In both the NCR and Cook County the vast majority minimized their risk.  Some others understood the risk, made the best choice they could, and lost the bet.  Still others were oblivious.  Taken together the unlucky and stupid probably total no more than Professor Pareto’s twenty-percent.  But is it possible we spend 80 percent of our time, energy, and money on that twenty-percent (or less)? (See more on the Pareto principle)

In both Chicago and the National Capital Region the weather (risk) forecast was accurate.  But many either missed or discounted the risk.  We do the same with hurricanes, wildfires, terrorism, and industrial catastrophes.  Unfortunately, it can go from bad to worse very quickly… and twenty percent can add up to a great many.

Real resilience will never emerge from a government program, though government programs can help or hurt.  Real resilience is the outcome of personal and social habits involving attention, self-reliance, and other-awareness (another way of rendering the headline).   It is my experience that most people are inclined toward resilience and welcome working with others to enhance overall resilience.  I am not sure how to address the persistently oblivious minority.

Even if the risk is communicated — clearly and in advance — some significant number will not plan or think about the risk until too late.  It is the grasshopper and the ants all over again.  Because I am in relationship with the grasshopper — and enjoy his music — I want to help as much as possible.  But when the grasshopper’s own choice (or non-choice) puts him at risk, could we at least stop criticizing the ant for not getting there more quickly?

No wonder emergency responders are so often fond of dark humor.  They need to laugh or they might cry.

Sally Forth on February 1, 2011 by Francesco Marciuliano, drawn by Craig Macintosh, distributed by King Features.

February 3, 2011

Nuclear Wikileaks: Al Qaeda seeks dirty bombs (and other bad stuff)

Filed under: Biosecurity,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 3, 2011

The latest Wikileaks-related news concerns Al Qaeda’s pursuit of radioactive material for use in a dirty bomb. Despite the sometimes alarmist headlines, the cables made available to the newspaper The Telegraph do not point to an imminent dirty bomb attack.  Instead they underline existing risks, not just dirty bombs but also nuclear and biological terrorism.

The focus on dirty bombs is understandable, as the majority of the reporting focuses on smuggled radioactive material.

Alerts about the smuggling of nuclear material, sent to Washington from foreign US embassies, document how criminal and terrorist gangs were trafficking large amounts of highly radioactive material across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

At a Nato meeting in January 2009 , security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a programme of “dirty radioactive IEDs”, makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.

More troublesome, and not stressed in any of the headlines, are the nuclear terrorism-related nuggets:

An Indian national security adviser told American security personnel in June 2008 that terrorists had made a “manifest attempt to get fissile material” and “have the technical competence to manufacture an explosive device beyond a mere dirty bomb”.

Freight trains were found to be carrying weapons-grade nuclear material across the Kazakhstan-Russia border, highly enriched uranium was transported across Uganda by bus

Tomihiro Taniguchi, the deputy director-general of the IAEA, has privately warned America that the world faces the threat of a “nuclear 9/11″ if stores of uranium and plutonium were not secured against terrorists.

Senior British defence officials have raised “deep concerns” that a rogue scientist in the Pakistani nuclear programme “could gradually smuggle enough material out to make a weapon,” according to a document detailing official talks in London in February 2009.

If that is not enough bad news for you, biological weapons are also mentioned in the leaked diplomatic cables:

The briefings also state that al-Qaida documents found in Afghanistan in 2007 revealed that “greater advances” had been made in bioterrorism than was previously realized.

A lot of bad news.  But not new news.  The alarm about these threats has been raised repeatedly over the years.  Just a few thoughts:

Dirty Bombs

If a dirty bomb is detonated inside the U.S., the radioactive material will most likely have originated within the U.S. and not have been smuggled from Eastern Europe or Central Asia.  There should be a greater focus on improving the security of the potentially most dangerous dirty bomb materials used within our borders and on developing technologies and techniques for cleaning up after an attack.

Nuclear terrorism

It is heartening to see foreign officials raising the alarm about nuclear terrorism.  There exists a perception that it is a particular “American” neurosis instead of a shared risk. Expanding understanding of the risks should hopefully make it easier to take the (relatively) simple steps towards securing weapons-usable fissile material (which exists in much smaller amounts compared to radioactive sources that could be utilized in a dirty bomb).

Bioterrorism

Recent focus as been on efforts to produce anti-virals and vaccines quickly to emerging natural pathogens or even engineered bioterrorist weapons.  While important, I fear that there is not enough focus on the ability to distribute these drugs or the eroding ability of public health services around the nation to detect a natural or man-made outbreak.  The Trust for Americ’a Health most recent “Ready or Not” report points out that the “economic recession has led to cuts in public health staffing and eroded the basic capabilities of state and local health departments, which are needed to successfully respond to crises.”

So even if we wake up tomorrow to discover that the biomedical fairy has gifted us the ability to quickly produce the needed drugs, how sure are we that authorities could get them to the people in need in a timely manner?  Or even realize that they are needed in the first place?

February 2, 2011

A Resilient Revolution

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Mark Chubb on February 2, 2011

In previous posts, I have referred to five metatrends that I think define resilience: local, simple, varied, connected and open. The events over the past few days in Egypt demonstrated once again the power and significance of these concepts. What we have witnessed in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities as well as Egyptian and sympathetic Arab communities around the globe is a sort of resilient revolution.

Hosni Mubarek’s regime and his 30-year tenure as Egypt’s ruler have been defined by a commitment to stability both internally and externally. To be sure, this track record considered in light of current events should make clear to all the error of confusing longevity with resilience even in a place as volatile as the Middle East.

The U.S. — placing a premium on stability over resilience itself — backed Mubarek despite his decidedly undemocratic tendencies until it became evident such support was both largely irrelevant and ultimately unsustainable. Indeed, the real question now is whether we have harmed our national interest and the credibility of our commitment to human rights and the rule of law by not making it clear where we stood with respect to the protests raging throughout the country and elsewhere in the Middle East sooner than we did.

Putting that aside and returning to the five metatrends, each has played out in interesting ways in recent days despite Mr. Mubarek’s efforts to retain power and his allies’ reluctance to play their hands in public: The people have sensed their power lies in their own resilience as evidenced in the following ways:

Local — Despite efforts by the government of Egypt to interfere with communication and co-opt media for their own aims, spontaneous protests emerged across the country, organized by small groups that relied on decentralized and horizontally aligned allegiances among small groups united by a shared vision rather than a common leader or clear structure. The government’s vertically-oriented hierarchical model of control simply could not keep up with much less outmaneuver the protesters once they sensed an advantage and decided to act.

Simple – The protesters’ amplified their power through the simplicity and directness of their demands: Mubarek must go. The absence of a single, identifiable opposition leader — notwithstanding the prominence of Mohamed elBaradei and his efforts to position himself in front of the mass movement for change — played in the protesters’ favor by making it clear that their objective was the nation’s welfare and therefore interest-based not personality-driven. It also made the movement very difficult to co-opt, control or reorient and will make it all but impossible for President Mubarek to remain in power until his term ends no matter how the next fews days go.

Varied — Decentralized control and local organization coupled with the simplicity of the messages and demands of protesters made it easy for people with very different agendas from every corner of Egyptian society, including marginalized groups that have been excluded from the nation’s social and political life for decades, to join the popular uprising without immediate fear of reprisals for their participation. Christians and other religious minorities have joined the ranks of Muslims just as crowds have seen men and women, young and old, educated and uneducated mixing freely and largely peacefully.

Connected — Even the disruption of Internet and other telecommunications services by the government did not significantly disrupt or interfere with the ability of protesters to organize or communicate their demands. When the army took to the streets at Mr. Mubarek’s direction, they had few good options. Their legitimacy, like his lack of the same quality, hinged on the desires of the people to see their country under democratic control, not simply control. The willingness of protesters to embrace the military and work alongside soldiers to maintain order, prevent looting, protect cultural institutions and suppress disruptive behavior and even violence prevented events from spinning hopelessly out of control.

Open — The willingness of the military and the protesters alike to play their cards face-up has prevented a dangerous situation from becoming truly chaotic. Violence and bloodshed have occurred, but seem to have been limited by the willingness of protest leaders and military leaders alike to make their intentions and expectation clear to all concerned. With the U.S. government’s arrival in the ranks of the openness parade, things have started to look like they might start resolving themselves in a fashion more rather than less consistent with our most fervent hopes for the emergence of peaceful, moderate and more democratic civil institutions in the Middle East. We have a long way to go, but this is looking better than almost anybody could have imagined even a short time ago.

It’s worth noting that this last principle — openness — may have played an unusually significant part in the process from the start. Some commentators have suggested that the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere have been fueled by the release of once secret communications regarding the Middle East peace process and U.S. efforts to deal with states and their leaders, particularly to resolve the Palestinian crisis. This assessment suggests the importance of ensuring that our policies not only reflect our principles in their ends but also in the means by which we pursue them.

February 1, 2011

Egypt, the US, and the relationship paradox

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Dan OConnor on February 1, 2011

As we’ve witnessed in real time, Egypt and revolution are now synonymous. Regionally relevant, Egypt every day slips away, from purported democracy to overthrow, to anarchy. With enough similarities to Iran in the late 70’s, another “ally” has fallen aside in a region that fuels the world.

We preach often and with interpretive translations or dramatic renditions about stability and maintaining it. We want financial stability. We want national stability and we want economic and social stability. But the “stability” we believe we had and embraced and embellished isn’t stability at all. My question is: is it repression or is it a necessary evil?

I ask as we see Tunisia fall — or begin to — and Jordan begin to wobble, while the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, increases its activity. And now Egypt. Why is Egypt so important? Fundamentally, their geography, their peace accord with Israel, the three million barrels of oil moving through the Suez canal daily, and Mubarek’s affinity to “help” us made them a necessary ally. Except for Jordan, Egypt is the only country in the region that attempts or manages to acquit themselves with maintaining a de facto peace and civil relationship with Israel.

But what of Egypt’s suppressed radicals? The basic ideology of political Islam finds its origin within Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has a long history of assassinations (Sadat) and attempts (Nasser) creating radical and political leaders (Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri and Sayyid Qutb) and influencing the world’s most wanted man (Usama Bib Laden) and terrorist group (Al Qaeda).

The current situation has its roots in post WWII, with Britain’s diminishing influence and the emerging Arab Israeli relations. Nasser’s rise to power and his rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled growing animosity and hostility in Egypt. With Nasser’s rejection of pro Western government and Islamist rule, it left him as an ideal partner for the Russians, hence our need to maintain active vigilance and persuasion within the region.

Nasser’s rejection of an Islamic government was an affront to the Brotherhood and in particular Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was the leading Islamic theologian of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. Qutb was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamist, poet, and catalyst of political and radical Islam. After a failed attempt to assassinate Nasser, Qutb and others believed to be involved were jailed, and tortured. Qutb was released and re-arrested and finally martyred. His writings, coupled with his education in the United States and his subsequent rejection of America were additional fuel for his radical thoughts and embrace of a more fundamental Islamic point of view, with some calling it a Salafist one.

All that said, the Martyring of Qutb and the success of the Brotherhood’s assination of Anwar Sadat (my father-in-law was in the reviewing stands several rows behing Sadat) was in direct conflict with the secularist roots of Egypts’ quasi Democracy.

Enter Mubarek. Vowing to only remain one term, Mubarek has remained “President” or better stated benevolent dictator since 1981, but as of late perhaps not so. Having been the ruler of Egypt for nearly 30 years, Mubarek has utilized Egypt’s Emergency Law for his entire tenure. He considers the country to be in a permanent state of emergency and under that guise has expanded his powers, exercised force and intimidation and diminished civil rights as a result. The Egyptian government routinely arrests and detains citizens for any number of reasons, with limited or no due process. Their record on human rights is also quite spotty and they are not considered to be a free society. But they are our ally.

So now the rub: should we not have been concerned with Egypt’s issues as long as they showed us favor? Much of the rhetoric trumpeted by radical Islam about the United States is its propping up of corrupt rulers and despots to ensure access to the middle east’s oil and maintain low prices. Is there any truth to their argument? Is there fundamentally a different argument that can be made about Iran and now Egypt? Certainly there are differences, but there are also similarities. I read recently that we have supported upwards of 25 dictators since WWII. Do we do this simply to maintain cheap oil? Clearly one could make a case for that. Our entire Newtonian or industrialized economy is built on hydrocarbons. The world’s economy is still based on an industrial age hydrocarbon economy. Is this the march of civilization? Is this repetitive activity, exploitation of one nation for the betterment of another, the expectation or status quo? Isn’t this the definition of hegemonic empire?

So are we willing to weigh the merits of our relationships with dictatorial leaders against our need to fuel our machines and maintain spheres of influence? Objectively and for purpose of debate, can we entertain the possibility that our activity and “needs” have created, to some extent, the environment that causes terrorist activity to occur? Do our desires and malleable stance toward human rights make us global hypocrites? Are we responsible for some of our pain? Should we be at all surprised that repression over an extended period of time creates environments and opportunities for inflamed and agitated populaces to revolt against their oppressors?

In order for the United States to flourish and reach its zenith as a nation, fuel was required; cheap energy to power an economy and industry. Cheap energy was required to create revenue to distribute as aid around the globe. Cheap energy was required to garner global influence and global force projection. Is this the march of civilization and is American Exceptionalism much different than British, Spanish, French, Roman, or Greek periods of power? I’d like to think we’ve been more humanistic in our hegomony. However, can we get past our hubris to entertain the possibility that our wealth, influence, and power were not abstract or arbitrary gains, but gained by exploiting other nations that had neither the might nor influence to stop us? And, are we all “good” with that because that’s how Nations grow and become influential? I believe one must ask the questions.

One must ask because in order to protect our way of life and defend the homeland — homeland security — one must have the historical context and not simply monkey grinder rhetoric. If we are to defend our Nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic and against existential threats, we must also be able to identify our hand in causation. Nothing happens in a vacuum; to believe it does is folly and dangerous.

If one believes in some sense of American Exceptionalism and also that same sense of International responsibility as I do, than one has to entertain all the facts, not those that simply fit our rationale. How else can one make and execute an effective homeland security plan and enterprise if we choose to ignore all the facts? As has been said before, we are all entitled to our own opinions informed or otherwise. We are however not entitled to our own facts.

The revolutionaries in Egypt are determined and growing more emboldened to bring down Mubarak’s regime. I wonder aloud if the leaders of the last 50 years of Egypt’s secular tyranny realized they spawned two enemies: the present revolutionaries and the theocratic absolutists. How much play the Muslim Brotherhood has remains to be seen and having reporters on 24/7 infotainment channels speculate or report that “leaders” pontificate about their role and/or are trying to separate Christians from Muslims is reckless and dangerous. But is it factual? I wonder if Egypt is more important than Sangin, Afghanistan where Marines engage in daily fire fights and die every day.

I wonder if the revolutionaries trying desperately to maintain calm and suppress anarchy have given any thought to what will replace the current regime. In the three act play, we are still in act one. Could this be the last of a series of dominos as former American strongholds topple or is this beginning of the people’s revolt against tyranny? Do the Saudis worry or dismiss? Does this devolving situation change our homeland security posture and procedures? These are interesting times.

And what is the definition of Homeland Security… Complexity, here we come!

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